Eating disorders awareness week – Why people are scared of the word fasting

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest diet and exercise fads within the last few years, you’ve probably heard about intermittent fasting at least once. When a person practices intermittent fasting, they’re strategically alternating between eating and fasting during the day to target greater health benefits.

However, along with the popularity of intermittent fasting are widespread misconceptions about the eating plan. Many people are calling intermittent fasting an eating disorder and a cause of anorexia.

With these beliefs spreading, people are becoming more afraid of the word “fasting” and what it could mean long-term.

What is starvation?

Starvation can be a combination of severe malnutrition and malnourishment to the point where bodily functioning is affected. When a person experiences starvation, they’re being deprived of the proper nutrients and sustenance needed to maintain life. It can be intentional or unintentional. 

When starvation begins, the body’s organ systems begin to slowly shut down. In addition to losing a lot of body fat, the muscles and organs begin to break down, as the body is desperate for fuel and energy that it usually gets from food.

At this point, the body begins destroying itself to maintain life as long as possible.

Starvation is a serious condition that can lead to organ damage and death if left untreated. It’s also one of the major symptoms of many eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, though it’s also linked to health conditions that severely reduce appetite.

What is fasting?

Though fasting also involves the withholding of food, it’s a short-term endeavor. On average, a fast may last anywhere between a few hours and a few days, but it’s always scheduled and broken once completed.

Fasting is typically an intentional action and is used to provide some sort of spiritual or physical benefits. When a person fasts, they’re still hydrating themselves and will provide their body with the necessary nutrients once the fast is over.

Scientific research and medical professionals both agree that fasting can yield great benefits if done correctly. It can potentially boost the functioning of the body and promote greater wellbeing in participants.

Why isn’t intermittent fasting the same as starving?

There are two huge differences between intermittent fasting and starvation: The length of the process and the goal.

When a person participates in intermittent fasting, they’re withholding food from their body for a set period of time, which is anywhere between a few hours and a few days. While in the fasting period, they’re still drinking water and beverages like coffee or tea to help the body to continue to function.

After the designated fasting period is over, the eating period begins. At any point during this time period, eating is permitted and the body begins to refuel from the fast.

When a person enters their eating window, they’re consuming a balanced diet full of the nutrients the body requires to function properly. Though they were deprived of these nutrients during the fast, they’re now being replenished as they should be.

The goal of intermittent fasting is usually related to improving health. Science proves that intermittent fasting can alter the functioning of the body and provide greater health to participants.

What makes intermittent fasting different from starvation is the reason behind it. Starvation is either the result of lack of access to food, complete lack of appetite, or the end goal of losing a significant amount of weight. When it comes to eating disorders, starvation is induced for psychological reasons.

While both intermittent fasting and starvation may result in the same effect (weight loss), intermittent fasting is a healthy way to achieve this goal without risking the body.

How long does the fast last?

Generally speaking, the amount of time you spend in the fasting period is much longer than the eating period. For the most part, it’s safe to fast between 6 and 12 hours, but there are people who fast for longer or shorter windows.

If you pursue an intermittent fasting schedule that involves not eating for 24 hours at a time, you should be aware of the possible side effects you may experience. You might notice that you feel sluggish, fatigued, dizziness, or headaches. You should know that longer fasts may affect your blood sugar levels more and cause potential health issues.

If you’re planning to fast for 24 hours or more at a time, you need to limit this type of fast to about once or twice per week. This allows your body to repair itself and rebalance the nutrients it didn’t receive while fasting.

Why is intermittent fasting safe?

When people confuse fasting and starvation, they automatically assume both concepts deprive the body of nutrients and are the result of an eating disorder. While this may be true for starvation, intermittent fasting is a different story.

Here are some reasons intermittent fasting is safe.

It’s done consciously

The most important part of intermittent fasting is following the schedule you have set. If you’re only eating between 9 AM and 5 PM during the day, that means you’re not eating between 5 PM and 9 AM. You’re strategic about the hours of the day that you eat and continue the pattern for optimal results.

The fasting and eating windows are both planned and you’re intentionally eating or not eating at certain times to follow the schedule.

The easiest method of intermittent fasting is including your fasting window within your sleep schedule. This is extremely helpful because you’re already fasting at night and it leaves you more of an eating window throughout the day.

Eating a balanced diet is required

Unlike starvation, intermittent fasting requires you to eat a balanced diet during your eating window. The goal of intermittent fasting isn’t to reduce the amount of food or nutrients consumed in the average day, but rather consume it all during certain times.

With intermittent fasting, rather than spreading out your meals between the moment you wake up and the moment you go to sleep, you’re condensing the time frame in which you can eat.

If you’re maintaining your current diet, the goal of intermittent fasting is simply rearranging the time at which you’re eating. If you’re using intermittent fasting as a method to help you lose weight, you should be consuming fewer calories within your eating window.

Our ancestors did it

Intermittent fasting isn’t just a recent dieting fad to help you lose weight. For thousands of years, many cultures and religions encouraged fasting during holidays and certain periods of the year. After the scheduled fast was over, participants were allowed to eat.

It’s also highly possible that thousands of years ago, our ancestors practiced intermittent fasting for a day or several days at a time. Though it may have been due to a lack of access to food and the requirement that they catch or kill their own food, they survived and were able to thrive.

It’s backed up by science

Perhaps one of the best reasons to begin intermittent fasting is due to the science that backs it up. Studies show that intermittent fasting can help to control blood sugar levels, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol, promote weight loss, and aid in the prevention of certain diseases.

The bottom line

As with most new dieting trends and fads, it’s completely acceptable to be cautious before beginning. The most important thing you need to know is that intermittent fasting is in no way connected to starvation or the development of eating disorders.

When done correctly, intermittent fasting is an extremely beneficial diet plan that can help you improve your body’s ability to function without risking the health of your organs or body. It’s been studied extensively and has been linked to plenty of positive health benefits.

Fasting is a healthy lifestyle meant to benefit our bodies and minds.